Countering the counter
Zeynep, please write about specific actions any of us can take. I respect that Insight is meant to be a community for deep thought, not a political platform. But I'm asking for suggestions, anyway.
I absolutely agree with your messages about underlying dynamics (averting repetitions of this disaster starts with understanding that yes, this is a coup; and whatever limited damage this time can't be counted on in the future). Changing thought and perception precedes changing what we do. Each of us who agrees with this can try to effectively persuade those outside one's bubble to see things differently. (A big lift!)
But for those of us who are already in agreement with you, what actions can we take?
Agreed that minority rule encodes all of this. I see plausibly effective opposition via
(1) the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact https://www.nationalpopularvote.com/ which would, de facto, make POTUS elections dependent on the popular vote and
(2) Fair Vote https://www.fairvote.org/ which is currently focusing on Ranked Choice Voting.
What else? Those in agreement sit here, anguished. We must have a place to direct that energy.
Thanks to all who are at least trying to make sense of this.
Thank you for this piece.
We face a communication challenge unlike any I have seen in my six decades.
One of the scariest aspects of the past five years has been the gradual erosion of meaning in the language used by those who should be responsible for keeping things clear. The White House (from POTUS on down) has used the flexibility within language to help create the alternate universe (with its own "facts") that all the mob used to express themselves. My son is a translator (German -English - German) and he wrote about the confusion at the heart of the "take Trump seriously, but not literally" problem (in reference to Ezra Klein's recent piece in the NYTimes).
He wrote: "Over time, you get good at reading all sorts of signs about what's literal and what's metaphor/symbol/rhetoric/humor/irony. You actually get so good at it that you don't realize you're doing it (which is why you need Lakoff/Johnson to write books about it). But partly because of the internet, partly because of ads/marketing, partly because of hipster appropriation of academic thought, there's an awful half-ness about what's literal (cf. "literally"). And so all the horrible memes, all the "lock her up", all the "we need the second amendment in case we don't like our government" is this weird plausible deniability vortex in which it's the modern definition of literal: both literal and metaphorical at the same time, depending on what's advantageous to the speaker at the time. No wonder there's almost no way to talk to people on that side."
Orwell would have been squirming to hear those lawmakers in the Capitol and those trying to storm it (including, in my reading, some GOP trying to storm it from inside, as it were) both using the term "our Constitution!", as though it somehow magically wrapped them in truth.
Is this really a broader issue of overall legitimacy of our form of self-government? It seems that only Republican/white votes (or wins) are "legitimate" in the minds of a significant fraction of the population, and politicians who "know better" continue to "humor" them. If this phenomenon continues to grow, "people acting professionally" and new legislation may not be enough. What can be done to reverse this trend? Are there lessons from other countries that we could learn from? Can only a "common enemy" (during the Cold War, "communists" -- now ... who?) bring back a more unified sense of reality?
Yes - I’m very concerned about “next time.” Judges, state election officials, poll workers: This time we saw many examples of people acting professionally and in good faith, even if it meant “their” candidate lost; what about next time? And of course we see gerrymandering and other anti-democratic strategies. I’d like to understand what a revived Voting Rights Act could or couldn’t address.
I keep thinking about how Trump ran roughshod all over the GOP in late 2015 and early 2016 on his way to their nomination. All their big guns came out against him and Fox News tried to damage Trump but nothing they did could stop him as he just rolled. Seemed like traumatic moment for the GOP where they internalized their own inconsequentiality. They learned that the media sphere was bigger than their control and it was too easy to defect so no discipline could be enforced. They spent 5 years in that environment and never figured out a way out of it. Even with people entering the gates of the Capitol ready to kill certain GOP members, they folded. After all that, the GOP still holds a ton of power politically but its a zombie ship.
You seem to indicate that minority of republicans that fled the Trump ship did so due to narrow political self-interest. This may be true. But whatever we may all think of people like Pence and McConnell, I sense that there was some degree of genuineness in their shock, and in the stances they took on principle(!).
We should not take this for granted. Try imagining a scenario where McConnell and Pence had decided to support a Trump coup. There certainly would have been chaos and crisis and possibly a civil war. But from a pure political calculus perspective, one could imagine they might have "succeeded", or believed they could.
When Trump was elected, a friend of mine commented that this will test America's institutions in maintaining democracy. Though these institutions have prevailed for the moment, they have also been severely weakened, not least because Trump has facilitated other less principled people people to inhabit them.
In a way this supports your warning about the next coup. But it won't be just because we have a president or an administration which is as ruthless but more competent than Trump's (as you argue). It will also be because those institutions will have been weakened and, not only the Raffenspergers, but also the McConnells of the world would have been replaced by others with even fewer principles, however hard it may be to imagine today.
Brava, zeynep, and hear hear.
Thank you for this article. What happened this week is so much more serious than many would like us to believe- as in, well, Trump just needs to apologize and tell his people not to do it again and somehow that would make the situation better. In fact, we need to call out Trump and all his enablers at every turn and all people participating or encouraging the invasion of the capitol need to be arrested, tried and, if found guilty, imprisoned.
Dr. Tüfekçi's Antlantic piece "America's Next Authoritarian Will Be Much More Competent" predicts a danger more serious than COVID: A Fascist Dictator. Unaware of her article and prior to the Attack on Congress, I had written the following piece with hopes of publishing it somewhere substantial; but, it ended up just an article for my FB friends. It is in line with Dr. Tüfekçı's piece, and I am sharing it here. I am new in this Forum, and please excuse me if I am out of turn.
“DO NOT REJOICE IN HIS DEFEAT…”
German playwright Bertolt Brecht had the following lines in his 1941 play, “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui”:
“Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men.
“For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard,
“the bitch that bore him is in heat again”.
The play is an allegory for the rise of Adolf Hitler, in the person of a fictional gangster, Arturo Ui, who attempts to control a certain racket in 1930s Chicago, with ruthless methods.
It would be tempting to find those lines of Brecht applicable to the current events of today’s America. There is a defeat: Trump lost the election. There is a resulting rejoice of Democrats over this defeat. There are concerns that Trumpism will continue to dominate Republican Party for some time to come. But, is Trump the “Bastard”, the omen mentioned in Brecht’s play?
No doubt, there are many similarities between Hitler and Trump. Both did many things in total disregard of established Constitutional order and traditional lines of governing. Both lied to denounce their opponents and to praise their own actions –Trump lied to praise even his non-action on COVID. Trump has displayed a strong tendency to be first an autocrat, then a dictator; Hitler started as an autocrat, and became a dictator. One may find many other similarities between Trump and Hitler. However, these similarities should not make us overlook many essential differences between these two personalities and their historical backgrounds.
While Hitler had a monstrous soul, we have not seen so far that much of an evil soul in Trump; it seems like he can at least love his children. This should somewhat console those who fear that Hitler and Trump are identical soul twins. However, there are quite a few issues with Trump to offset this consolation. Hitler loved his dog and treated his female associates with respect, as opposed to Trump being a pet-averse, and reached his female entourages’ private parts, and even boasted about it. Hitler was against marital infidelity, as exemplified in his intervention on Goebels’ extra marital affair, upon a request by Frau Goebels. On the other hand, we read about several stories of Trump’s adulteries. These are some behavioral differences between Hitler and Trump.
As for the differences in their intellectual capacities, we can observe a greater gap. Hitler was able to re-organize the NAZI Party and to make it an effective fighting machine against all Europe. In Trump’s background, we find inheritance, bankruptcies, failed enterprises, millions of dollars of debt. Hitler could concentrate long enough to be able to draft a military campaign plan against France that succeeded stunningly, allowing victorious Hitler touring Paris in 1940 – a plan that was objected by German generals initially, and that gained their respect for Hitler subsequently. As opposed to that, Trump is said to have the attention span of a toddler in the discussions of governmental affairs. Until towards the end of the Second World War, Hitler had the trust and respect of his generals; Trump has been the butt of a banquette joke by his former Secretary of Defense, General Jim Matthis who said "I earned my spurs on the battlefield... Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor," referring to a medical deferment for bone spurs that enabled Trump to dodge draft during the Vietnam War.
Considering these contrasts, from the standpoint of these two personalities, rather than Hitler in the form of Arturo Ui who was focused, purposeful, and serious, and whose authority rested not only on fear but also on respect, Trump is more like Adenoid Hinkel of Charlie Chaplin’s 1941 film Great Dictator which also spoofs Adolf Hitler –a buffoon.
While Hitler’s favorable attributes over Trump is mentioned here, Hitler, with his ridiculous personality and sick soul, could not have become the leader of a people like Germans, a nation of philosophers, poets, musicians, artists, and scientists if the post-World I Germany had been any different.
Germany suffered economically from not only the consequences of the war, through heavy reparations and a legendary inflation but also from the effects of Great Depression in the World. Germany suffered also psychologically. They felt humiliated to lose territories, to be subjected to disarmament, as a result of a War they had started to believe they were winning or they should have won – after all, no part of Germany was invaded by their enemies.
Throughout history, people could weather economic difficulties and gloomy political debates. But, there has been no long term tolerance to violence. What wore Germans after the War was the political atmosphere that spilled from conference halls to streets in the form of armed rival gangs. Right wing was out to threaten and assassinate opponents, Left was out not only to counter them, but also to attempt building a new Socialist German State, in fact there was founded even a short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic. Germany had become a battleground between rival political gangs.
When a people run into a tyrant at every corner of their country, they have always preferred to have just one tyrant. Hitler and many others before and after him have satisfied that preference.
While there are great differences between Hitler and Trump, the differences between Weimar Germany and today’s America are only superficial. Though caused by different reasons, American people today are psychologically, economically, politically as unhappy as those Germans. Perhaps, today many Americans are prone to be deceived by a demagogue more than those Germans. When Hitler made them believe that Jews were out to destroy not only German people but also the whole Aryan Race, he could at least tie that ridiculous claim to seeming BS evidence that many leaders of German Socialist, Social Democrat, Communist Parties, which nationalist blamed for the ills of the country, were Jews, that many leaders of Soviet Revolution were Jews. Today, a sizable portion of American population can believe that leaders of Democratic Party, as members of a Satanic cult, aided by Hollywood, are running a criminal ring devoted to the abduction, trafficking, torture, sexual abuse and cannibalization of children, and that Donald Trump is the only person willing and capable to mount an attack against them.
Yes, Trump is not as capable as Hitler, which is a consolation against a fear of Fascism by him; but, the population he has preyed on is more gullible than that which Hitler had found. Therefore, while it seems like his first attempt to be the villain of Brecht’s play has failed, America must be prepared for his second attempt, or new attempts by more capable “Bastards”.
To counter the dangers of a Fascism in America, Americans who are loyal to the spirit of the Founders of this country must be on alert, and launch initiatives to remedy true social, economic, psychological, and political ailments of this country, addressing the legitimate concerns of their political rivals. For example, instead of spending time on endless discussions on fringe matters, they should spend time on legislations to prevent would-be dictators to flourish. For instance, in order to prevent a fiasco like that of today’s, when a President resists to leave office after an obvious defeat, a constitutional change may be contemplated by which both President and Vice President would be required to leave office, in favor of some constitutionally determined persons, some time prior to an election.
“World-historic facts and personages appear twice”, Hegel said, and to which Marx added “first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” In historical reality, they may appear many times alternating between tragedy and farce. Trump Era, hopefully, is turning out to be just a farce with its “Pizzagates,” “Rigged Elections,” “COVID Hoaxes”. However, if decent Democrats and Republicans do not act wisely, they would be the midwives of that “Bastard” waiting to be born and to bring tragedy.
January 2, 2021
Former News Commentator of Turkish TV Channel Kanal-E (later CNBC-E)
Former columnist of Turkish daily newspaper, YURT.
I keep thinking about why this is happening now. The right wing establishment began its long slide into nutcase land in the 1990's (arguably 80's, but it was clear in the 90's that lying about Clinton was a big career booster). Before that, it was racism. I have a suspicion that people who know they've done bad things need to demonize their opponents to seem even worse just to feel better about themselves. So Denny Hastert (R-speaker of the house, convicted pedophile) needs to believe and propagate lies about Democrats to make himself feel better. Newt Gingrich (R-speaker of the house) was having an affair and lying about it while impeaching Clinton for having an affair and lying about it. So now the process to elevate bad people cycles long enough to bring in "true believers" as well as hypocrites as leaders (not just elected, I mean Rush Limbaugh, etc.). But then the fuel has to be social media--now, you make money by propagating Qanon lies, so it explodes like never before. Then, enough people are taken in to do the old "He's right, you now" groupthink that convinces members they're on the right side. It's not economic insecurity, it's just plain old hatred, cultism, and a feeling of being "in" on something. We have no need to interview Nazis in diners ever again. And now the outrage is round-the-clock, over every conceivable thing. And then the match is Trump, who just instinctively plays a mob boss. Boom.
The two things we can make the biggest change the quickest is social media and the money supply. The believers suspect it's partly a lie (if Qanon was really true, why aren't they protesting every day?), but when they get surrounded by enough loud voices, they're happy to turn their brain off and just believe, and do a little light insurrection, maybe do some shopping later. We need to break the cycle.
Also: All Republicans Are Traitors. They need to sweep ALL this out by forming a new party, with Qanon, Trumpists and Nazis barred. We cannot let the traitors in the House and Senate get a chance to do this all over again. They are not terrorists, they are traitors.
This seems relevant for the future competent coup scenario: This statement (https://www.defense.gov/Newsroom/Releases/Release/Article/2464427/statement-by-acting-secretary-miller-on-full-activation-of-dc-national-guard/) by the Secretary of the Army about activating the National Guard mentions consulting with various elected officials, but conspicuously NOT Trump. Together with statements from Maryland governor Hogan about the timeline of sending the Maryland National Guard, and a later statement by Pelosi that she had been assured that there were guards against Trump initiating a nuclear strike, it paints a clear picture that military leaders intervened to remove Trump from the chain of command. In a sense, concurrent with the self-coup, there was another coup happening behind the scenes, which was the opposite in every way. The self-coup was slow, public, incompetent, and ultimately failed. The other coup was fast, secret, and successful. There is no indication that the architects of the second coup plan to do anything other than facilitate the transfer of power to President-elect Biden, but it's perhaps troubling for future events that this crisis was handled not by democratic procedures, but by backchannel interventions.
Zeynep, what are your thoughts on the ostensible Commander In Chief apparently being cut out of the chain of command?
- VP Pence called in the National Guard to the Capitol
- Speaker Pelosi “assured” the press that protocols are in place to prevent Trump from launching nukes (no such protocols exist)
- NY Times is reporting that active military is miffed that civilian command is trying to get them to handle this when Trump is still their lawful CoC, and they are duty bound to obey any lawful orders from him.
What Trump and his enablers are doing is bad, and can get worse, whether it’s a “coup”, an insurrection, or something else. But isn’t asking the military to neuter the President’s power a *textbook* definition of a coup?
The more I think about this, the more it reminds of Benghazi:
-Part spontaneous demonstration
-part planned protest
-part organized terrorist attack
Two biggest domestic takeaways from Benghazi:
-Security was insufficient
-Reinforcements late to arrive
-Initial reluctance to call it terrorism
I recall a very high political price was extracted from those that did not call it 'terrorism' fast enough.
I can't think of anything to add except thank you for writing this. I've tried hard to get into the heads of those in the Beltway bubbles (I assume they're bubbles? It's all very far from my world) to understand how they don't perceive the danger but I'm falling pretty short.